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  • Richard Farr

“Did someone really write a whole book on the meaning of the term ‘bulls**t’?”



One of the characters in Ghosts in the Machine mentions this, and it’s true! Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt’s On Bullshit is a fascinating analysis of what makes liars different from bullshitters. In brief: liars care about steering people away from the truth; bullshitters don’t care one way or the other about truth, but only about using cheap rhetoric to sell either themselves or their stuff. So bullshit isn’t the opposite of the truth, but a kind of gilded truth that’s not honest.

Nearly the entire vocabulary of marketing and advertising consists of bullshit in this sense — think of expressions like all-new, all-natural, farm-fresh, hand-crafted, revolutionary, exclusive, executive, select, luxury, gourmet, andartisanal. Only the most gullible consumer literally believes what these words offer to imply, but we’re all happy to engage in a sort of conspiracy of pretending to believe what they imply, because we feel better about spending the money if we’re being bullshitted. You could even say that being bullshitted is the service we’re paying for. Do you really want them to tell you that your revolutionary new phone is — as, I’m sorry to say, it certainly is — pretty much the same as the last model? Or that your Rustic Italian Loafwas baked — as it probably was — from Canadian ingredients in batches of 100,000 by Korean robots in New Jersey? Of course not. You’d rather pay for the bullshit. That’s why there’s so much of it.


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